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The Hulk

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

Afshan Shafi

This month our archives will feature poetry from some of our editors. The first selection is by our Poetry Editor, Afshan Shafi; this poem was published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 4 (2020). This poem is inspired by Stan Lee's original comic.

“That’s my secret, Captain, I’m always angry.”

The Incredible Hulk

Between himself and himself

There was a child borne to the middle air

Dulcet, incisioned

It held no memory of its glass-womb,

Freshly borne,

Its hand was

The size of a pentagram,


On the crag of a saucer

‘The strangest man alive’

Was all throat

(the tensile scruff of his neck in bloom;

Jade sepals, shedding their

Pleated bounds)

His meditations were

A long kneeling,

Gulls, pneumatic, swung beneath his arms

The drawn smoke of his breath


Irises, paper lotuses, a spine dripping honey

Peeling a gull off his shoulders

He was often

Filled with a lubricous kind of kindling

Hulk was playful even in the guise of a brute,

Brimming over the pink fog of


He left a candy heart behind

For each victim

Each heart’s weak red patina,

Described the rutilance of

A strawberry,

Not the full gash of itself,

But keening, metered.

Red, not green, was the Hulk’s opiate

If he could,

He would frill his eyes with autumn trees

And tack each bright root

With the damp skin of

A common felon,

With a history of

Getting beat.

What gave Hulk his Jesuit ardour,


Wasn’t found in lab-ish sanitoriums

But in orchards, where his skin, apple green,

As sharp as peach,

Was first devised

Artwork by Shah Numair Ahmed Abbasi

Hulk’s metier, then, was

not anger

but compassion

Not ‘Hulk’ , affectatious, puerile,

But a boy closet-reared,

Hair torn at its tulip root

A blue-rich photograph of

Granny in his pocket

Hulk, not the incredible foe

Of plain-sailing automobiles

Or skyscraper flesh and clavicle

But a trundler attuned

To shingle crusts

A gad-about the

Whiskied pavement

Not ‘Hulk’, but the

Songless romantic

Of the family,

His one pitchy smile;

je t’aime’ pissed on the sand


Shah Numair Ahmed Abbasi’s practice draws on popular culture, anecdotes and colloquialisms to stage personal and social narratives in attempts to challenge the politics behind how gender is constructed and performed socially. The figure of the male nude is a recurring theme, often presented in ways that undermine or question idealised masculine virtues. Recent turns in his practice observe how queer men navigate issues related to their identity during interactions within and beyond the community, and across domestic, public, and virtual environments. He repurposes dating apps to investigate the dynamics of fragile spaces where interactions are dislocated, ephemeral, and motive-driven. Abbasi lives and works in Karachi.

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